Accused of accepting bribes in exchange for political favors, a Chicago Alderman and her chief of staff were indicted Thursday on federal bribery charges. The chief of staff was also charged in a separate scheme to purchase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at a discount.
According to the indictment, Chicago Alderman Carrie Austin and her chief of staff, Chester Wilson Jr., conspired with construction contractors offering to provide free home improvements for assistance in acquiring city development projects between 2016 and 2019. Both Austin and Wilson allegedly abused their positions by accepting bribes, including free home improvement materials, home improvement services, furniture, and appliances.
Between December 2016 and February 2019, multiple text messages and emails recorded conversations between the public officials and the contractors with requests for kitchen cabinets, bathroom tiles, granite countertops, etc. in exchange for help obtaining city development projects. Both Austin and Wilson allegedly made illicit requests for home improvement materials and services at properties owned by each of them.
Questioned by FBI agents on June 19, 2019, Austin allegedly gave false statements when she denied receiving bribes from the contractors. Austin only admitted to receiving a cake from one of the contractors.
Accused in a separate scheme to buy SNAP benefits at a discount, Wilson allegedly paid cash to a SNAP recipient in an amount below the face value of the card. Due to his city salary, Wilson is not eligible for SNAP benefits.
On Thursday, Austin was charged with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery, and one count of willfully making materially false statements to the FBI. Wilson was charged with one count of conspiring to use interstate facilities to promote bribery, two counts of using interstate facilities to promote bribery, and one count of theft of government funds.
Austin is now one of three sitting members of the City Council under federal indictment, along with Ed Burke and Patrick Daley Thompson. Burke was indicted on racketeering and bribery charges, while Thompson was charged with filing false tax returns and lying to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) officials.